GALVESTON, Texas — A tugboat captain's decision to try to beat a cargo ship into the Houston Ship Channel is the probable cause of a 2014 collision that spilled 168,000 gallons of oil that drifted up to 200 miles down the Texas Gulf coast, according to a federal report issued Tuesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board also said in its report that the failure of a ship channel navigator and the Summer Wind master to set a safe speed in the fog-shrouded channel contributed to the accident. The NTSB also cited the failure of the tugboat captain and navigator to establish early radio communication.
No crew members were injured in the March 22, 2014, collision between a fuel oil barge towed by the tugboat Miss Susan and the cargo ship Summer Wind in the channel of lower Galveston Bay.
The Miss Susan was towing two 300-foot-long tank barges filled with 924,000 gallons of fuel oil when the collision occurred. It was sailing eastward across the mouth of the channel bound for Port Bolivar, across from Galveston. Meanwhile, the 607-foot-long Summer Wind was steaming north into the channel when the string of oil barges crossed its path.
Also contributing to the accident, the NTSB concluded, was the failure of the U.S. Coast Guard's Vessel Traffic Service to alert the ships to the developing collision risk and the lack of a Coast Guard vessel separation policy for the area of the collision.
A message left with Kirby Inland Marine, operators of the Miss Susan, seeking comment was not returned Tuesday night.